Offbeat 02 April 2015
I make no secret of my enjoyment of food. Even if I didn’t put that fact out here, in words, you could spot it in the shape of my belly. Good food is happiness. Good food offered to others is an expression of friendship and love.
I’m reasonable in the kitchen. I’m not Jamie Oliver, but what I cook is prepared with some form of enthusiasm. It never looks like a well-presented plate, the kind you see in magazines, but the taste is almost always what I want it to be.
Call it a hobby that I have to indulge in at least once a day. If there is more time among the workload, I will find a way to experiment. I have a memory for tastes that serves me well. Once I have a flavour in my head, I can try to combine it with other known flavours to see what happens. Sometimes that leads to failure. Lemon essence in cheesecake is not something I will repeat. Now I know.
Logic suggests that I could just follow a recipe, but at there is unscientific creativity at the heart of the hobby. Recipes are guidelines at best, something that can show how to set about things, but not to be followed narrowly. Following the exact instructions means eating someone else’s idea of a meal. And I have yet to find a recipe that tells me that a steak tastes great when it is lightly dusted with ground cloves.
Most people won’t grasp the pleasure of experimentation. There is the obvious fact that poverty is a barrier to cooking and experimentation. And in addition to the poverty diet of eating what is available, for purposes of time, or lack of interest, most people will go with what they can buy in a ready-to-eat, manufactured form. That convenience is somehow understandable but dangerous.
Social media has opened new perspectives on how far we have come with food manufacturing. From what I gather, most of what we can buy in ready-to-eat form is tainted with chemicals and the poisonous residues of herbicides and pesticides. Those things are supposed to create economies of scale for the manufacturers, but they do so without much thought for the person who swallows the product.
What do you swallow? According to current memes on social media, the primary ingredient that makes diet drinks sweet has been linked to weight gain and diabetes. Unfortunately there is no major body of research, just a few minor studies and a massive amount of social paranoia.
Research is doing its work in other ways. A number of countries are banning or have banned herbicides and pesticides. Genetically modified organisms, GMOs, are also under scrutiny, with bans being imposed on that side as well.
The major problem is that people who want to eat safely are branded as hippies and tree-huggers, a taint that emerged with the wholefood movement in the Sixties and Seventies. In actual fact, the people who want to eat safely are people who want to do just that. The decisions that are being made, to eat better, are being made in kitchens, not in mass action.
Putting aside the social media buzz around food manufacturing and sales on an industrial scale selling, there is an economy which argues in favour of naturally produced food. Locally produced food uses local labour, so there should be an impact in that.
The questions of food security and sovereignty are also important. If food can be produced by more people locally, then food security becomes less pressing, even if it is just kitchen gardens. And using local seed, not seeds that are patented and controlled, means less reliance on the mercy and goodwill of large corporations which measure the availability of goodwill by the quality of their financial statements.
Valid and important as that reasoning is, all of it feels somewhat laborious. There is one other argument worth noting. Manufactured food appeals to average tastes. The act of buying and preparing fresh ingredients is however a way to eat in a way that satisfies your own tastes, not the bland and uninteresting indications of market research.